BeeKeeper: Providing education for Cambodian children one upcycled backpack at a time

BeeKeeper creates vibrant and colourful backpacks by using fabric remnants and upcycled shirts that help reduce waste, but there is much more to this Melbourne-based hive.

With every backpack purchased from the BeeKeeper brand, the company will send one child in rural Cambodia to English class for one whole year.

BeeKeeper sources high quality discarded shirts and textiles and turns the material into durable, functional and eco-friendly backpacks, saving it from landfill.

Each BeeKeeper design is unique and in the five years that the brand has been in business it has created backpacks, as well as purses, wallets and weekend bags from a range of materials and designs including denim, bold prints, patchwork, Hawaiian-style shirts and army fatigues.

BeeKeeper also offer an upcycle-your-own-shirt service where customers can send in an old shirt and have the cloth pattern transformed into a durable backpack.

BeeKeeper state: “We [BeeKeeper] take our environmental responsibility very seriously. All parts of our operations strives to use existing material including in the design and production of our products. We [BeeKeeper] don’t believe in creating new ‘stuff’ to be added to the waste in the world.”

As a brand, BeeKeeper, like the products which they create has a rich heritage and is steeped in a strong desire to create change in the world.

The brand was founded by Cambodian-born Koky Saly and his sister Sophia Saly in 2012. Koky Saly was born in prison during Cambodia’s civil war in the 1970s, escaping with his family when he was 3-years-old. After living in Australia for most of his life, Koky felt it was time to go back and help rebuild his country. With the help of his sister and founding members, the BabyTree Projects was created, a charity which fights for children’s rights and to bring quality education to children in rural Cambodia.

Not long after the Saly siblings devised the business idea that would later become BeeKeeper, Koky’s younger sister passed away from cancer in 2012. They shared the dream of creating a social enterprise to fund the BabyTree schools and protect the world’s environment. In her will, Sophia left Koky her car and requested that he used the proceeds to create a business that would inspire change.

For Koky Saly, rebuilding his homeland is as much about creating a sustainable planet as it is about quality education. Since its inception, BeeKeeper have upcycled three tonnes of clothing and fashion waste into their products.

In an interview with Walk Sew Good, BeeKeeper founder Koky Saly said: “Sustainability is important to me because I came into Beekeeper from the point of view of giving back to the world, of helping, particularly the kids in Cambodia.

“What I didn’t understand is what I would take from the world and so I came to a realisation that just because I was trying to do good, that it didn’t mean that it gave me the right to cause harm to the planet or the people. We only have one planet so we can’t really keep on taking away from it. And if we can live our life by not harming it, then why shouldn’t we?”

BeeKeeper state: “Our [BeeKeeper] mission is to create products that change the world, do no harm to the environment, nourish and support the people and animals that dwell on our planet, to seek solutions to our environmental crisis, to use business to inspire people to consume less, to do more and BEE MORE and to support BabyTree Projects in its fight for quality education for all children.”

There is much motivation behind the work that Koky Saly does and the actions he takes in “creating the kind of business that he would like to see in the world”. Determined to serve a greater good and create fairness for the world’s inhabitants, while protecting the environment, is at the heart of this. His desire to create change in the world has clearly been there since day one but what has further fuelled this desire is in making sure that he keeps his promise to his sister.

In memory of his sister, Koky Saly set up the the Sophia Saly School in 2014 in a Cambodian coastal village right near the sea.

BeeKeeper as a social business continues to evolve organically, moment by moment. Koky Saly’s drive and passion is abundant and the possibilities he explores, infinite.

Koky Saly is currently launching a series of events, known as BeeKeeper Talks, to help raise funds to support the BabyTree Projects. The first event, which is due to take place on 19 April in Melbourne, aims to drive people to follow their dreams and “be more you” by inviting four people from the Melbourne community to share their stories. Tickets to the event can be purchased via Eventbrite.

BeeKeeper

Rosalind Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She is a writer who specialises in sustainable life & style, music, entertainments and wellbeing. Rosalind also works as a spiritual life coach and intuitive advisor helping people to become who they truly are and manifest their heart & soul’s desires into their lives: www.rosalindmedea.com

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